A study in self-delusion

This is a very long article that ultimately wore me out but even though written by someone on the left side of politics, gets to the heart of the matter. It is titled, I can tolerate anything except the outgroup and is about how we can let pass our true enemies who are really far away and reserve our greatest enmities for those who are nearby. The author, Scott Alexander, practices a very sophisticated form of self-delusion in his attack on conservative beliefs, but it is more interesting than usual. And it is nice that he at least sees some of what is wrong although will not finally grasp the point he continuously alludes to. Here is a bit of a summary:

Freud spoke of the narcissism of small differences, saying that “it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other”. Nazis and German Jews. Northern Irish Protestants and Northern Irish Catholics. Hutus and Tutsis. South African whites and South African blacks. Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. Anyone in the former Yugoslavia and anyone else in the former Yugoslavia.

So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.

But he says a good deal more. I thought this was true, although it is not at all true about me. What has alienated me from my high regard for America in the past is how it has embraced the values of the Democrats almost across the board. But I can still see what the author means:

My hunch – both the Red Tribe [Republicans] and the Blue Tribe [Democrats], for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.

That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.

Here is the conclusion:

We started by asking: millions of people are conspicuously praising every outgroup they can think of, while conspicuously condemning their own in-group. This seems contrary to what we know about social psychology. What’s up?

We noted that outgroups are rarely literally “the group most different from you”, and in fact far more likely to be groups very similar to you sharing almost all your characteristics and living in the same area.

We then noted that although liberals and conservatives live in the same area, they might as well be two totally different countries or universe as far as level of interaction were concerned.

Contra the usual idea of them being marked only by voting behavior, we described them as very different tribes with totally different cultures. You can speak of “American culture” only in the same way you can speak of “Asian culture” – that is, with a lot of interior boundaries being pushed under the rug.

The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.

The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.

This is not surprising. Ethnic differences have proven quite tractable in the face of shared strategic aims. Even the Nazis, not known for their ethnic tolerance, were able to get all buddy-buddy with the Japanese when they had a common cause.

Research suggests Blue Tribe / Red Tribe prejudice to be much stronger than better-known types of prejudice like racism. Once the Blue Tribe was able to enlist the blacks and gays and Muslims in their ranks, they became allies of convenience who deserve to be rehabilitated with mildly condescending paeans to their virtue.

It’s a spooky article since where it leads is to the disintegration of all community feeling for those of a different political perspective. But what it most importantly means is that groups from alien cultures and far different practices and beliefs [FGM, for example] become the allies of convenience for the left, meaning there is no assimilation required and the fracturing of American society continues apace.

At the end, the conclusion is the same old same old that what is needed is more tolerance only that the tolerance should be directed at the outgroups of the left. What really needs to happen is that there is less tolerance for the ruining of American society by assuming everything everyone does is just fine and none of anyone else’s business but their own.

I am personally in virtually all of the characteristics part of the blue team but my sentiments are almost entirely red team. There is nothing I or anyone else on the conservative side of things can do to stop the ruin, but this kind of smarmy smugness about Democrat virtue and tolerance does make me smile at the self-delusions these people have.

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